Thursday, 21 November 2019

Ceisteanna (5)

Joan Collins

Ceist:

5. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will liaise with the Minster for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner with a view to funding and establishing a dedicated Garda transport unit to ensure the safety of bus, train and tram workers and passengers in view of the upsurge in anti-social behaviour on the public transport network (details supplied). [48419/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (10 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

I ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, in light of the dramatic upsurge in anti-social behaviour on our public transport network and the aspirations of Government under the climate action plan, to encourage citizens to switch from cars to public transport, if he will liaise with the Minster for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner with a view to funding and establishing a dedicated Garda transport unit to ensure the safety of bus, train and tram workers and passengers.

I thank Deputy Collins for her question, which has details supplied. I think I am to answer two questions together. That is fine, as long as the Deputy has got away with it.

The Minister is taking the Deputy's question-----

I am taking her question. What I am saying is that the text of her question relates to two issues.

The Minister is just answering Question No. 5.

Yes, that is fine. I thank the Deputy for her questions and a further opportunity to discuss the very serious issue of anti-social behaviour. As I said in my earlier reply to a similar question from Deputy Lahart, while the vast majority of public transport passenger journeys occur without incident, the safety and security of both public transport passengers and staff, including arrangements to deal with anti-social behaviour, are important matters that, first and foremost, must be managed by every public transport company and, where appropriate, in conjunction with An Garda Síochána. While I am of course concerned to ensure that the necessary arrangements are in place to ensure the safety of all passengers and staff, the allocation of all Garda resources, including the manner in which Garda personnel are deployed, is a decision solely for the Garda Commissioner and his team.

As I outlined earlier, the Minister for Justice and Equality has been advised in a report prepared by An Garda Síochána on this issue that it is not proposed to establish a specialist or dedicated unit of the force to police the rail network and that effective local community policing efforts can meet the policing needs of the rail network and its stakeholders. As part of this, An Garda Síochána's superintendent of community engagement and public safety liaises regularly with the chairman of the Railway Safety Advisory Council, RSAC, and will attend future meetings, as requested, of the RSAC, which includes representatives of the rail companies and trade unions. The superintendent has also undertaken to arrange meetings between local Garda management and public transport providers on any identified locations where significant crime and anti-social behaviour persist. Such meetings will enable discussion of the delivery of an appropriate policing response in collaboration with transport providers.

I have been advised that the superintendent will provide advice on community policing engagement, crime prevention, diversity and hate crime to management and staff of the main public transport providers, as was done in a presentation to Transdev, which operates the Luas, last January. The RSAC and the Garda have agreed to keep these actions under review and subject to an annual meeting between the RSAC and the superintendent of community engagement and public safety.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The partnership approach between An Garda Síochána and the rail companies to promote high visibility and strong community engagement on the rail network resulted in Operation Twintrack on 13 September, whereby gardaí were deployed to 12 rail stations nationally along with high-visibility patrolling of rail stations and Luas routes.

I am pleased to say that overall incidents of anti-social behaviour and vandalism on Dublin Bus have decreased in recent years since the introduction of the exact fare system, CCTV and security screens at drivers' cabs. I am advised by Bus Éireann that incidents of anti-social behaviour to date this year are at a similar level to last year. It is vital that all public transport companies continue their strong and close working relationship with An Garda Síochána to address these incidents.

The details supplied with my question asked whether the Minister would further acknowledge that the unacceptable levels of anti-social behaviour on parts of the Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann networks and the continuous mayhem on parts of the railway network cannot continue, and that as part of a public transport undertaking, there should automatically be a funded Garda transport police. This has been an ongoing issue, as the Minister said, on which he has been contacted numerous times by the National Bus and Rail Union, NBRU. The figures the NBRU provided last year were quite startling. Over three years, 2016, 2017 and 2018, more than 1,000 incidents of anti-social behaviour were inflicted on drivers and staff. I think it was in response to this that the Minister said he would look at this area. On Friday, 13 September, there was a day of action whereby members of An Garda Síochána travelled on DART, commuter rail and Luas vehicles. There was concern that this was advertised and that a great many people who probably would have engaged in anti-social behaviour on public transport could have taken that day off because it was announced so publicly.

What the Minister said is not good enough. I think it has been noted previously that there is an airport police that has the same search and arrest powers as An Garda Síochána.

As I said to Deputy Lahart, this is a matter for the Garda, not me, to enforce, but I will facilitate it in any way I can. I have been in touch with all the relevant companies about this and they are taking measures to address the issue very energetically. The Deputy is right about Iarnród Éireann - I will quote a number of figures to her - but what she says is not the case with the other transport companies. According to material received from Irish Rail, the number of recorded anti-social incidents has risen in recent years. In 2016 it was 492; in 2017, 680; in 2018, 789; and in 2019, up to October, 971. Irish Rail has been encouraging employees to report all safety-critical issues, including threatening and violent behaviour, and this appears to be coming up with some fairly unsatisfactory results as far as the number of incidents is concerned. Irish Rail has addressed the problem very energetically. On buses the trend appears to be downwards, which is encouraging. Dublin Bus, which perhaps I will go into in response to the Deputy's second supplementary question, has been taking a lot of measures as well. In Bus Éireann I think the numbers are also decreasing. Therefore, whereas Iarnród Éireann has a very serious problem which remains, the bus companies have responded to the actions that have been taken.

The NBRU asked me to put this question to the Minister. There is a basis for reassessing this situation. Was there a report back from the 13 September action involving An Garda Síochána travelling on the DART, commuter rail and the Luas? A Deputy previously said we could also look at community police linking in and jumping on Luas trams and getting onto DARTs and buses as part of their beat. It is not good enough to say this must be left to the companies because many times they do not have the funding - or do they? Will the Minister provide the necessary funding to Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus for them to provide extra security or service workers who could link in with the Garda on any extraordinary events on their transport systems?

I am not sure what the Deputy is referring to when she speaks of a report back from the action. I think she is referring to what was called Operation Twintrack on 13 September, which the Garda carried out. It was a partnership between An Garda Síochána and the rail companies to promote high visibility and strong community engagement on the rail network on that day. Gardaí were deployed to 12 rail stations nationally along with high-visibility patrolling of rail stations and Luas routes. If I can get any more information on this, which I think is what the Deputy is looking for, I will supply her with it. I am not sure that the Garda necessarily has reported to us on the operation, but it is reasonable to expect that it should give us feedback on it and how it worked. This does not necessarily mean the Garda intends to repeat the operation at very regular intervals, but I presume that a lot of lessons would have been learned from such an action.

I am pleased to say that overall incidents of anti-social behaviour and vandalism on Dublin Bus have decreased in recent years since the introduction of the exact fare system, CCTV and security screens at drivers' cabs. I am advised by Bus Éireann that incidents of anti-social behaviour to date this year are at a similar level to last year. It is vital that all public transport companies continue their strong and close working relationship with An Garda Síochána.